Looking to encourage and inspire a new generation of IT professionals, IBM has joined with the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) to create two computer science courses for free use in high schools around the world.
In an announcement Thursday, IBM and the New York-based CSTA unveiled the two custom course offerings and an accompanying teacher development module, the result of pilot projects late last year at four U.S. high schools and testing at two universities in the U.S. and Canada. Between September and January, the schools tried out the lesson plans, student worksheets, accompanying PowerPoint presentations and snippets of related software code in their classes, then made revisions that led to the offerings now available.
The idea is to inspire students to pursue careers in technology and computer science to ensure a continuing supply of skilled workers for companies worldwide, according to IBM. Some 82 percent of U.S. high school seniors are below proficient levels in science, according to U.S. Department of Education figures. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of jobs requiring science, engineering and technical training are expected to increase by 51 percent through 2008, leading to an estimated 6 million openings for scientists, engineers and technicians.
Robin Willner, vice president of global community initiatives at IBM, said this is the first time that the company has partnered with the CSTA on such an initiative and the first time in 12 years that IBM has aimed an educational program directly at high schools. In recent years, IBM has aimed such programs at middle schools to catch students' interest before they get to high school, she said. "We're making sure we don't miss anything in the continuum," Willner said. "We really wanted to have a seamless set of programs for children from age 10 to high school and beyond that."
In the past, the field of computer science was mostly about the tedium of programming, which left some students uninterested. But that has changed in recent years, she said. "Now it's all about problem-solving," she said. "It's all about doing exciting work to find the next great thing. It's all about working in groups and collaborating" in diverse careers, including electronics, computer gaming, communications, aerodynamics, food services, environmental sciences, biotechnology and more.
Chris Stephenson, executive director of the CSTA, said her group has 5,000 members, about 80 percent of whom teach in high schools. Now that the three course plans have been released, the CSTA will focus on making sure some 36,000 computer science teachers in high schools around the U.S. know about them, she said. "We need to get our hands on good classroom-tested resources that are designed for us," Stephenson said.
The lesson plans and other materials, which can be downloaded from the CSTA Web page or from IBM's Academic Initiative Program, offer courses in object-oriented design using the video game Pong and Java programming concepts; Web page design and development, including how to identify the target population for a Web site and use storyboarding as a tool for building sites; and a project-based learning module intended for use as a professional development resource for teachers.
Cheryl Davis, a computer programming and business teacher at Winona High School in Winona, Minn., participated in the pilot project and said she is pleased with the additional resources the initiative is providing to high schools. "They have strong emphasis on storyboarding" a Web site, she said. "It's a fun thing for the kids to do ... so the kids get very involved. The kids see it as, 'This isn't just math and science stuff, this isn't just coding stuff.'
"The problem in the U.S. ... is that the numbers of students in high schools going into computer science -- or even math or science -- [is] dropping dramatically, particularly [for] girls," Davis said. "If I can get hold of them, they get really excited about computer programming."
The other schools involved in last fall's pilots were Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va.; Sumner Academy of Science in Kansas City, Kansas; and Westlake High School in Waldorf, Md. The two universities that did teacher testing of the courses were the University of Windsor in Ontario and California State University at Chico.
The CSTA is a division of the Association for Computing Machinery, which is an educational and scientific society for computing educators, researchers and professionals around the globe.